Desertion, by military definition, can be described as abandoning a post or duty without the intention of returning. Reasons for desertion in the civil war took place for any number of reasons. Reasons varied for getting out of the war as widely as the reasons for getting in. They could have been personal, political or environmental. Poor food, clothing and sanitary conditions in the camps was well below comfort level for many. Fear of death and homesickness played on them emotionally. Hot summers and bitter cold winters made marching unpleasant. The idea and hopes of a short war did not pan out. The enthusiastic and upbeat volunteer at the beginning who thought that the war would last a few weeks or months soon found out differently. When the south enacted the Conscription Act of 1862 it set a lot of men against the war because now entering the military was not a choice but a requirement. This created more desertion.
For quite a while, I have known about Michael T. Abe and his desertion from the 11th Virginia Cavalry after just over a month and a half of service. The prison camp records say he was 18 but other records put his age at about 16 when he enlisted and it was only a few weeks after the death of his older brother in a prison camp. Did he make the decision to enter the war for the intention to retaliate for his brother's death or because he really felt compelled to support the cause of the South? It most likely was the former and when he found things were not going to work out as he planned, he left. Who knows, maybe he did a lot of boasting of what he would accomplish and his pride and shame would not let him return to the family after release from prison camp. He seems to have dropped off of the face of the earth. Apparently he changed his name and moved on.
With more and more records coming to light on the war because of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the war, it has become clear that Michael was not the only Abe family member afflicted with wayward feet. We will deal with the others here and any possible reasons that are known.
As we saw in the post, "Virginia or West Virginia 10-011", the western portion of Virginia was for the most part Pro-Union. As a result this would have caused a lot of problems for soldiers of the 77th Virginia Militia and other local militia groups. First they thought they were there to defend the south and then the sympathies of that part of the state started to dictate the complete opposite.
(33)The book, 11th Virginia Cavalry - A Virginia Regimental Histories Series (Page 4), tells us that Company D was "organized at Winchester, March 12, 1862 by Captain Edward H. McDonald.......Following the Conscription Act of 1862, McDonald reorganized the mounted men (about 25) of the 77th Virginia Militia into a company of cavalry." So how did the Captain and 25 men of the 77th Virginia Militia become part of the 11th Virginia Cavalry?
Beginning in late 1861, all Virginia volunteer militia units were ordered to report to General Joseph Johnson at Manassas to be incorporated into the Confederate Army. Apparently with the western part of the state leaning toward the Union this would be one way for the Confederacy to keep from losing as many soldiers as possible. They would no longer be a local militia, guarding their local communities, but part of a full-fledged army. This, as we will see, apparently would cause a lot of militia soldiers to rethink the path for their life. If they joined the Army of Virginia they would lose their ability to see their families as they did when they were a local unit. If they joined the north it would be against their southern loyalties. Many decided to not fight for either and just went home.
On April 28, 1862, Edward H. McDonald was officially (33, page 163)installed as Captain and was put in charge of the 77th Virginia Militia and told to report to his father, Colonel Angus W. McDonald who, along with his regiment, was guarding the outposts of Romney, WV. The 77th was short lived and was disbanded shortly thereafter. It looks as if this was the time when the 77th suffered a mass desertion. Captain Edward H. McDonald then organized a small group of the militia who were left into a cavalry unit, Company D, as part of the 11th Virginia Cavalry.
A couple young Abe men from the 77th Virginia Militia and many others decided that joining the main army of Virginia was not for them. On or before October 26, 1861 a number of them deserted the unit. From here we will take a look at who these family members were.
We know, from previous posts, that John Adam Abe was arrested as a citizen on August 8, 1862 and sent to a Union prison camp. For a long time now I have wondered why he was targeted by Union troops for arrest when he was not yet a member of the 11th Virginia Cavalry. Recently I have found 77th Militia records that say that on October 26, 1861 John Adam deserted the unit and for almost 10 months he was free to carry on his life at the farm. With the western part of the state of Virginia getting closer and closer to separation from the whole, I imagine the Union was expecting residents of those counties to start supporting them. Eventually someone most likely turned him in as being a member of the 77th Militia or he refused to fight for the Union. Maybe in his trips to Cumberland, *Union forces stationed there started to question who he was and his affiliation. All they would be concerned about was he supported the Rebels for a period of time and was still a registered member. It wouldn't matter that he deserted. This desertion would explain why he was listed as a citizen when arrested. After his release from prison camp in December 1862, John Adam spent the next year at home on the farm as part of his probation. But, with his probation over, on January 1, 1864 he cast his lot with the Confederacy and joined his brother Philip as a horse soldier in the 11th Virginia Cavalry.
Another 77th Militia member and future Abe family member also walked away from the unit. On October 26, 1861, the same day as John Adam Abe, John Adam Herrick deserted from the same unit. He was not as lucky as John Adam Abe. He ended up with only a couple months of freedom. On January 13, 1862 he was arrested in the Patterson Creek area (most likely at his home). With these two, it would seem that they had every intention of integrating back into home life as before. Both John Adams, though arrested at different times, did cross paths for about five days at Antheneum Prison in Wheeling, Virginia (later West Virginia). John Adam Herrick was then transferred to Johnson's Island, near Sandusky, OH on September 6, 1862. From there he was transferred to Camp Chase, OH and on to Vicksburg, Mississippi on November 22, 1862 for an exchange of prisoners between the north and the south.
The third person was a surprise to me. How could one who served faithfully for two and one half years as a Confederate soldier be a deserter? That soldier was none other than Philip Abe. The 77th Virginia Militia records list him as a deserter on the exact same day as the other two. Where was he when his brother, John Adam, was picked up? Another big question is how he was able to evade arrest by the Union soldiers for just shy of one year. The arrests of the other two, and also members of the Long and McKenzie families living nearby, must have made him think twice about hiding out any longer. On October 15, 1862 he traveled to Green Spring, Virginia where he joined up with his old 77th Virginia Militia counterpart Edward H. McDonald who would now be his commanding officer. His choice was made and from that point on he served the Confederacy till the end of the war.
* Note: As for troops stationed in Cumberland, even though Maryland was considered a neutral state, the state was particularly important to the Union for its railroads and they defended them well. The B and O Railroad skirted the northern tier of Maryland from Cumberland to Baltimore and could be used to ferry troops and supplies quickly and as needed. Cumberland easily had as many as 6,000 to 8,000 troop stationed there at times. That is how Cumberland was able to quickly put up a fight at the Battle of Fulks Mill, east of Cumberland when General McCausland was headed there to destroy the railroad facilities after he had ordered the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
See the following:
John Adam Abe links for the 77th Virginia Militia Records
John Adam Herrick Links for the 77th Virginia Militia and Prison Camp Records
Philip Abe links for the 77th Virginia Militia Records
Michael T. Abe Links for the 77th Virginia Militia Records